Chess and Maths: From Numbers to Checkmate – Trinity Liao

With the popularity of Netflix’s new miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit, detailing the story of a young woman and her rise in the world of chess, it seems her prodigy-like ascent is not the only thing that has soared. With the series being praised for an accurate portrayal of the strategic game, The Queen’s Gambit has become a cultural phenomenon for old and new chess fans. According to CNN, since the show’s debut, 3.2 million new players have joined chess.com for a taste of what the game is really like. 

But that’s not all. 

Three weeks after the show debuted, sales of books about chess, including stratagems, how-to-plays, and novels about the game have increased by 603%, and chess set sales have gone up by 87% in the US. That just shows the power of what a Netflix show can do to you.

As chess continues to become a renewed recreational item again, a well-known area of STEM has sparked interest in the chess and non-chess communities. With the way that chess is set out on an 8×8 tile board, mathematics has often been associated with chess due to its interweaving of similar concepts such as problem-solving and logic. Players must constantly scan the board to explore new combinations of moves to attack their opponent. And just like how maths is governed by a set of rules, chess pieces have rules attached to their movement across the board. 

Yet, this does not mean that you must be good at maths to be good at chess or vice versa. Chess is based on calculated risks: An opponent makes a move and you assess how you can use that to your advantage. Just like how you prove a maths theorem using a series of logical steps, you make sequenced moves in chess to hopefully get closer to winning the game. But the catch is there is a rival seated across from you trying to attack and foil your plan. 

Other than the logic behind this fascinating game, the chessboard itself introduces a coordinates system that can represent geometric concepts, where players could use spatial reasoning to analyse positions of their pieces to win in the most effective manner. 

More interestingly, one of the most famous current affairs involving chess, technology, and thus maths, was when IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue defeated chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov in 1997. Although there were controversies surrounding that Deep Blue was actually controlled by a real chess player, it’s no doubt that this historical event paved the way for the mathematical age of big data.

Even though it is still in question whether learning chess has a direct correlation in improving students’ maths scores, it is agreed that both chess and maths share commonalities in understanding patterns, thinking critically, and making logical yet advantageous steps to checkmate.

About Trinity: Trinity Liao is a third-year undergraduate student studying Bachelor of Computer Science (Advanced) at the University of Adelaide. Having learned how to play chess as a hobby from a young age, she has since picked it back up following the phenomenon of The Queen’s Gambit

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